In Sierra Leone: L.A.W.Y.E.R.S in Valentine date with rape victims
As Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice (L.A.W.Y.E.R.S) clocks 22 on Valentine’s Day 14th February, 2019 the organisation seeks to renew their affection for girls and women by putting their well-being and economic empowerment top of their agenda. (Photo: L.A.W.Y.E.R.S in Hands Off Our Girls campaign)
With the rise in news media reports of sexual violence and abuses against women and girls especially minors, the organisation’s President Fatmata Sorie said they would like to mark the first quarter of their anniversary by raising funds for and supporting two girls who have been the most recent victims of sexual violence.
The first girl was allegedly sodomized by a relative with whom she lived, and she’s currently hospitalised. Her injuries include, but are not limited to, paralysis from the waist down. She is unable to control her stool or urine.
The second is the case of a five-year-old girl raped within her community. She suffers from constant unbearable pain and whilst she has returned home to her mother, she is in urgent need of further medical and psychological care.
“We can only begin to imagine the psychological and emotional trauma which these two victims continue to suffer,” said Fatmata, adding that L.A.W.Y.E.R.S would like to assist with the payment for private medical consultations, therapy and counselling specially to address post-traumatic stress for the victims.
Furthermore, she said L.A.W.Y.E.R.S would like to provide educational support for both victims with an opportunity to experience the joys of childhood.
According to Fatmata, the organisation has been invited to cooperate with the Government of Sierra Leone in many of its ventures, particularly in relation to the welfare of women and girls; hence their presence and contribution to dialogue subsequent to the Presidential declaration of rape as a national emergency in Sierra Leone.
Many things have happened since 14th February 1997 when L.A.W.Y.E.R.S was founded as the organisation, despite lack of funding and other odds, determinedly continue to pursue their mandate of empowering vulnerable women and girls in Sierra Leone.
With the support of OSIWA, UNFPA, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and other stakeholders, L.A.W.Y.E.R.S initiated the fight for gender equality which crystallized in the passage of the three Gender Acts namely: The Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act no. 20 of 2007), The Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act, 2009 (Act no. 1 of 2009) and The Devolution of Estates Act, 2007 (Act no. 21 of 2007). These were followed by the passage of the Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (Act no. 60 of 2012).
From its head office in Freetown, the organisation has opened regional offices and has worked in six (6) Districts- Port Loko, Bo, Western Area Urban and Rural, Kono and Kenema, where in partnership with other organisations, they carried out legal advice clinics as well as legal representation in court matters and offering support and advocacy for the welfare of female inmates.
L.A.W.Y.E.R.S participated in the fight against Ebola between 2014 and 2015, engaging in public broadcasts on radio, television, print and social media on how the disease was caught, how it spread and how it could be prevented.
In August 2017 when the hills of Regent were hit by a devastating mudslide, leaving many dead and displaced, L.A.W.Y.E.R.S gathered resources and provided relief packs to the women and girls of the Kamayama community, Lumley. Some of these women were lactating mothers, many with very young children, left destitute and in many cases homeless by the disaster.
“It’s hard to believe that we will celebrate our 22nd anniversary this year. So much time has passed since we embarked on this journey in Sierra Leone,” said Millicent Stronge, Public Relations Officer of L.A.W.Y.E.R.S.
She paid tribute to a group of female legal practitioners including the late Hon. Justice Claudia Taylor, the late Hon. Justice Valerie Nicol and the late Patricia Kabba, ‘coming together with other brave soldiers’ including but not limited to Isha Dyfan, Maureen Green, Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff, Mariama Seray Kallay, Hannah Ahmed, Vivian Solomon JSC, Musu Kamara JA and Jamesina King J.
“L.A.W.Y.E.R.S is extremely grateful to all those women and those who have supported us over these last 21 years. The executive would like to give special thanks to the those who have and continue to sponsor us: UN Women, OSIWA, UNFPA, JSDP, ASJP, Global Fund for Human Rights. Thank you for your financial support over the years,” said Millicent.
The organisation is also grateful to the Female Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police, Aberdeen Women’s Clinic, 50/50, AdvocAid, Law Officers Department, SLBA, WIMSAL and all their partners and friends for their support, friendship and for welcoming L.A.W.Y.E.R.S as part of the fight for the protection and promotion of the rights of the most vulnerable women and girls in Sierra Leone.
Nationwide, L.A.W.Y.E.R.S has provided service through TV and Media appearances and advocacy and outreach, and for this they thanked Radio Democracy, SLBC for showcasing the challenges that are faced by women and girls and for promoting good working practices in relation to Gender issues, and “AYV TV for granting us free air space for advocacy every last Monday of the month’.
“We are impressed with what we are doing, especially the positive difference we are making in the lives vulnerable women and grils,” said Fatmata. “Yes, we have encountered resistance to our work, most especially where there has been a clash of cultures, but the organisation has persisted and seen the benefits of its advocacy especially with the raised awareness amongst young girls who are now aware of their right to remain girls; their right to be educated and emancipated.”
Meanwhile, L.A.W.Y.E.R.S plans to observe Valentine’s Day with stakeholders to give update on its activities and plans for the future. Over the weekend, the organisation also plans to take stakeholders to visit the two rape victims to assess their conditions and see what can be done.
“We called on the public to support our work toward a world free of sexual violence,” appealed Fatmata.
By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
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